The Alchemy of Disease

How Chemicals and Toxins Cause Cancer and Other Illnesses

John Whysner

Columbia University Press

The Alchemy of Disease

Pub Date: June 2020

ISBN: 9780231191661

344 Pages

Format: Hardcover

List Price: $35.00£30.00

Pub Date: June 2020

ISBN: 9780231549509

344 Pages

Format: E-book

List Price: $34.99£30.00

The Alchemy of Disease

How Chemicals and Toxins Cause Cancer and Other Illnesses

John Whysner

Columbia University Press

Since the dawn of the industrial age, we have unleashed a bewildering number of potentially harmful chemicals. But out of the vast array of threats, how do we identify which actually endanger us? What does it take to prove that a certain chemical causes cancer? How do we translate academic knowledge of the toxic effects of particular substances into understanding real-world health consequences? The science that answers these questions is toxicology.

In The Alchemy of Disease, John Whysner offers an accessible and compelling history of toxicology and its key findings. He details the experiments and discoveries that revealed the causal connections between chemical exposures and diseases. Balancing clear accounts of groundbreaking science with human drama and public-policy relevance, Whysner describes key moments in the development of toxicology and their thorny social and political implications. The book features discussions of toxicological problems past and present, including DDT, cigarettes and other carcinogens, lead poisoning, fossil fuels, chemical warfare, pharmaceuticals—including opioids—and the efficacy of animal testing. Offering valuable insight into the science and politics of crucial public-health concerns, The Alchemy of Disease shows that toxicology’s task—pinpointing the chemical cause of an illness—is as compelling as any detective story.
Whysner's book is a valuable addition to the history of toxicology and allied fields, as it benefits from the institutional knowledge of a professional working in the field of toxicology for five decades. The author brings to light technical aspects of the science that some may not be aware of, especially concepts of risk assessment, dose response, and links between cancer rates and the reality of the state of the science. Dale A. Stirling, Consultant in Environmental & Public Health History and author of The Nanotechnology Revolution: A Global Bibliographic Perspective and A Bibliographic Guide to North American Industry: History, Health & Hazardous Waste

About the Author

John Whysner was formerly an associate clinical professor of environmental health sciences at the Mailman School of Public Health, Columbia University. A board-certified toxicologist, he has consulted for the International Agency for Research on Cancer and federal agencies including the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and was director of biomedical research for the Special Action Office for Drug Abuse Prevention, Executive Office of the President.